Of all the elements of President Trump’s plan to “put America first,” one of the most troubling is a promise to slash aid to developing countries by over one-third. Such a move would drastically cut aid to combat famine and disease.
At this year’s TED, as global-minded attendees are reckoning with a surge in anti-globalist sentiment, organizers are pushing back against this likely loss of resources for some of the world’s most poorly served people. The $1 million they’re awarding Dr. Raj Panjabi as the winner of this year’s TED Prize will hardly make up for such a substantial loss in foreign aid. But Panjabi hopes his work can cultivate networks of people with the skills and tools to better serve their country’s health care needs, whichever way the political winds are blowing through the White House.
“There are a billion people on the planet who live in these remote communities,” Panjabi said during a morning briefing with reporters at TED. “The idea is that help for these communities might not come from places we expect. It may not come from the outside—it may actually come from within.”
Panjabi’s Community Health Academy aims to connect makers of potentially life-saving tech—from diagnostic smartphone apps to solar generators for free clinics—with health workers in the field. As the co-founder and CEO of Last Mile Health, Panjabi has spent the past decade training and equipping such workers in remote pockets of the world, drawing them from the communities they are meant to serve. His efforts so far have focused on helping Liberia, where Panjabi spent his childhood, cope with the Ebola crisis. Now he wants to spread the model to all communities in need, including those in the US.
“As global citizens, we’re living in a tumultuous moment,” says TED Prize director Anna Verghese. “Raj understands more than anyone that disease adheres neither to borders nor to nationalities.”